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HP has been rather slow getting in on the act with refillable 'tank' printers in the past, with its Smart Tank range of inkjet printers taking almost a year to reach the UK and US following a somewhat low-key launch in Asia and Pacific regions.
But the company has taken a real step forward with its recently-announced Neverstop Laser range -- the first refillable laser printers that we've seen. Just as a refillable inkjet printer abandons conventional ink cartridges, so HP's Neverstop lasers replace traditional toner cartridges with a large internal tank instead. This tank can hold enough toner to print thousands of pages at a time, delivering far lower running costs than conventional cartridge-based laser printers.
There are several models in the Neverstop range, and during the launch presentation -- in the bygone days of mid-March -- they were initially targeted at small business users. However, the printers didn't go on sale until April and HP has nimbly embraced the opportunity to pitch the Neverstop range as a cost-effective printing solution for people who are working from home as well.
There are three Neverstop models listed on HP's website in the UK, starting at £191.67 (ex. VAT; £229.99 inc. VAT) for the 1001nw, which is a single-function mono laser printer with USB, Ethernet and wi-fi connectivity. The mid-range 1201n model adds a 600dpi scanner/copier, but only includes USB and Ethernet interfaces, and costs £208.33 (ex. VAT; £250 inc. VAT). We tested the top-of-the-range Neverstop 1202nw, which adds wi-fi as well and costs £216.66 (ex. VAT; £259.99 inc. VAT)
There's a more limited range in the US. The single-function 1001nw costs $230, but there's only a single multifunction model, the Neverstop 1202w, which costs $330 with a scanner/copier, USB and wi-fi but no Ethernet.
There are less expensive laser printers available for home users and small offices, including HP's own LaserJet Pro range. However, the price of the Neverstop laser printers also includes enough toner to last for around 5,000 pages, which is far more than the toner normally included with conventional laser printers.
Inkjet printers that use refillable tanks tend to be rather big and bulky, as the tanks are often simply bolted onto the side of the printer. However, HP's Neverstop printers look much more like conventional lasers. All models share the same basic design, measuring 380mm wide and 294mm deep. The single-function models stand just 211mm high, while the scanner unit that sits atop the multifunction models increases the height to 287mm. They're all very compact, though, and should sit comfortably on a desk or nearby shelf without taking up too much space if you're working from home.
The single input tray holds 150 sheets of A4 paper, which should be adequate for most small offices or home use, and the Neverstop has a recommended monthly maximum output of 2,500 pages. It's not the most versatile of printers, though. It can print on envelopes and heavier types of paper, but there's no manual feed for envelopes, so you'll have to empty the main tray whenever you want to print on different media. The printer doesn't provide auto-duplex (two-sided printing) either, although HP's driver software does support manual duplex for occasional use. Nor is there an automatic document feeder (ADF) for sending multi-page documents to the scanner.
The HP Smart App provides remote printing and scanning for mobile devices, and the printers also support Apple's AirPrint for iOS devices, and Google Cloud Print.
The Neverstop printers provide 600x600dpi resolution for black-and-white printing, although HP claims that its 'FastRes 1200' enhancement technology effectively doubles that resolution. The result, with our text documents, is very good text quality, with smooth, well-defined characters that will be well suited for high-quality business documents.
All of the Neverstop printers share the same quoted speed of 22 pages per minute, although the 1202nw that we tested wasn't quite that fast, producing 20ppm for a variety of text documents, as well as mixed documents containing both text and graphics. Graphics output is good too, with smoothly graduated greyscale shading on our test documents, and the Neverstop can handle simple graphs and charts with no problem at all.
Ordinarily, this is the point where we'd warn business users to consider the cost of replacement toner cartridges, but, of course, the Neverstop printers no longer use cartridges, so we need to look a little more closely at the running costs of these first-ever refillable laser printers.
As mentioned, the price of the Neverstop printer includes enough toner to last for around 5,000 pages, so if your printing requirements are fairly light then it might well be a couple of years before you need to buy any additional toner at all. When you do run out of toner you'll need to purchase one of HP's Reload Kits, which look rather like a giant syringe that simply allows you to inject new toner straight into a nozzle on the front of the printer.
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And, as promised, the reload kits are a lot less expensive than conventional toner cartridges. A single kit costs £12.50 (ex. VAT; £15 inc. VAT, or $16), and lasts for 2,500 pages, which comes to approximately 0.6p/0.6c per page. You can also buy a twin-pack for £22.60 (ex. VAT; £27 inc.VAT, or $28), although that only reduces running costs slightly, to around 0.55p/0.55c. Even so, those costs are much lower than most conventional inkjet or laser printers, and HP's claim to "save up to 80%" does seem to be justified.
There's one bit of small print that you need to look out for, though. Most laser printers will occasionally require a replacement imaging drum -- the component that applies toner particles to the paper. In this case, it turns out that the Neverstop printers do actually stop after all -- after around 20,000 pages -- and will then require a replacement drum. A new imaging drum costs £55.42 (ex. VAT; £66.50 inc. VAT, or $71), but does earn its keep by also including additional toner that should last for a further 5,000 pages.
It's worth pointing out that we've seen inkjet printers with refillable tanks, such as Epson's mono-only ET-M2140, that are aimed at office users and offer even lower running costs. However, the initial purchase price of the ET-M2140 is higher than that of HP's Neverstop printers, and many business users will prefer the crisp text output of a laser printer for their business documents.
HP's lack of enthusiasm for 'tank' printing in recent years has been disappointing, but the introduction of the Neverstop laser range is a genuine innovation that could provide real savings for business users working from home or in small offices. There's room for improvement, as the Neverstop lasers aren't the most fully-featured printers available for office users. However, many people who now find themselves working from home will welcome a fast and cost-effective printing solution such as this.
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